Jim Carver, one of the co-founding brothers of Carver Brewing Co., is back kneading dough after taking a break in 2008, when the brewpub expanded its brewing capacity and shrank its bakery.
“It’s fun to watch the dough rise,” he said during a recent tour of the kitchen and backhouse of the brewpub, which opened in 1988, Durango’s first brewpub since prohibition, and the second in Colorado, behind Wynkoop Brewing Co. in Denver, founded by now-Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Carver has been baking since his first job as an eighth-grader at the Hans & Hanna German Bakery in Milwaukee.
A lifetime spent around stacks of flour and baking tables has left its mark on Carver, who says his habitual waking time of 4 a.m. comes from a career ensuring the morning pastries are fresh baked.
After Carver’s lost a good chunk of its kitchen space for baking when the brewery expanded in 2008, Carver stopped his regular early-morning baking stints. Now, he said, it’s good to get his hands in dough once again.
And with baking at Carver’s now focused on breads, not pastries, arrival at the brewpub at the relatively leisurely hour of 6 a.m. will do, and it still allows the restaurant to be well-prepared to meet the demand for rolls, specialty breads and bread bowls for soups for lunch and dinner.
“Soups with a bread bowl are just a great thing in the winter after a long day of skiing,” he said.
Many Durangoans will remember the days when bagels and pastries could be picked up at Carver’s as well as a growler of Colorado Trail Nut Brown Ale.
However, the expansion of the brewery operation in 2008 ate into the space used for baking, and the pastries and bagels were dropped.
“In 2007, we were running out of beer,” he said.
Carver’s, he notes, once had a bagel machine that could make 1,000 bagels an hour.
“A bakery takes up a lot of room. The flour storage alone is pretty substantial, and then there’s the ovens.
“We needed more room for more tanks. Something had to give, and not a lot of people like to get up at 4 in the morning. It got harder and harder to find people who wanted to come in at that hour in the morning,” he said.
Tim Walsworth, executive director of the Durango Business Improvement District, said Carver’s is a magnet that helps everyone.
“It’s Durango’s home base. It’s our Cheers: When you go in, you see 85 people you know,” he said. “It’s the anchor tenant in north downtown. Now you see the 11th Street Station, and there are a lot of cool businesses on that block. Carver’s is where it started.”
The Carver family’s philanthropic work, he said, is an important aspect of the thriving brewpub. The renovation of the Powerhouse Science Center converting “a hulk filled with pigeon poop” into a hands-on museum was led by the family, Walsworth said.
Hickenlooper, who is good friends with Jim and Bill Carver, called the brewpub “a critical part of the re-invention of Durango’s downtown” in an email to The Durango Herald. He added, “Their work to revitalized downtown Durango is a good statewide model that we have talked about many times.”
While pastries and bagels may be in Carver’s past, breakfast remains a staple.
“It’s unusual for a brewpub to serve breakfast, but that’s how we grew up,” Carver said.
The 800 pounds of potatoes Carver’s goes through in a week are proof of the meal’s popularity.
“Our evolution is interesting,” he said. “We were the first coffee shop in town. Durango Coffee Co. used to be in the back of the building, roasting. We used to have doughnuts back in 1986, when we were brewing fresh-ground coffee. I don’t even think Starbucks was in business. If people call us a bakery, you know they’ve been in town for a while.”
Now, Carver says the latest trend in food is the vegetable – a trend to avoid carbs.
Breakfast at Carver’s now allows the option, heretical as it sounds, of replacing hash browns with an arugula salad.
“It’s important for a restaurant to evolve,” Carver said, and the growing importance of vegetables is one reason Carver’s now has a partnership with Twin Buttes Gardens at the Carver Farm just north of Durango off East Animas Road (County Road 250).
A tour of the brewbpub provides a history lesson.
The building once housed The Durango Herald Democrat, and an old, cast-iron printing press from its newspaper days is buried beneath the kitchen floor.
Carver’s still benefits from the reinforced construction and lift elevators in place to accommodate the weighty enterprise of operating a press in the 1950s. Instead of carrying newsprint and ink, the old lift now provides easy supply of hops, barley, flour, potatoes and everything else needed for the brewpub.
For Carver, the cycle of bread, and its requirement for an early-riser to prepare the daily offering, proved an ideal fit for him.
After Hans & Hanna German Bakery in Milwaukee, Carver migrated to the Bay Bakery in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, a town made famous in a line from “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
From the Great Lakes, Carver migrated to Colorado, but he never gave up his acquired baker’s trait of rising before the sun.
He covered skiing costs with jobs at bakeries first in Aspen, then Winter Park and finally Durango.
“In Aspen, I would come in at 3 a.m. and be done by noon, and I’d ski all day,” he said.
But it is Durango where Carver, and his brother, Bill, settled.
“Durango is the best place of all,” he said. “It’s a real town.”